The plight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people is said to be the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.

Risking death by sea or on foot, more than half a million have fled the destruction of their homes and persecution in the northern Rakhine province of Myanmar (Burma) for neighbouring Bangladesh since August 2017.

The United Nations described the military offensive in Rakhine, which provoked the exodus, as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Myanmar’s military says it is fighting Rohingya militants and denies targeting civilians.

 

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya, who numbered around one million in Myanmar at the start of the year, are one of the many ethnic minorities in the country. Rohingya Muslims represent the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar, with the majority living in Rakhine state.

They have their own language and culture and say they are descendants of Arab traders and other groups who have been in the region for generations.

But the government of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, denies the Rohingya citizenship and even excluded them from the 2014 census, refusing to recognise them as a people.

It sees them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Since the 1970s, Rohingya have migrated across the region in significant numbers. Estimates of their numbers are often much higher than official figures.

In the last few years, before the latest crisis, thousands of Rohingya were making perilous journeys out of Myanmar to escape communal violence or alleged abuses by the security forces.

 

Why are they fleeing?

The latest exodus began on 25 August after Rohingya Arsa militants attacked more than 30 police posts.

Rohingyas arriving in an area known as Cox’s Bazaar – a district in Bangladesh – say they fled after troops, backed by local Buddhist mobs, responded by burning their villages and attacking and killing civilians.

Amnesty International says the Myanmar military has killed hundreds of Rohingya and raped and abused Rohingya women and girls.

The government claims that “clearance operations” against the militants ended on 5 September, but BBC correspondents have seen evidence that they continued after that date.

 

This article was published on the BBC website on 19th October 2017.

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